Sunday, January 23, 2011

Why People Want To Train With World Champions

Or why working for Steve Jobs will not make me Steve Jobs.

Now that I am not training, I have time to finally discuss a topic that's been discussed since they created martial arts tournaments. Training with world champs and why people love it.  

Before I begin let me start by saying, anything I say is my opinion only and take the opinion of a purple belt for what it's worth. There will also be exceptions to anything I say, as there are always the outliers.

Now by training I mean, learning from. The world champion being your teacher. Training with a world champion as a training partner is quite attractive but does not have the luster of training with a world champion because most likely they are not a black belt yet (though having a world champion training partner may make more sense because you will be training in the same championship environment as he is).

It's natural, because they are a world champion they will somehow make you a world champion. One of the key points to this psychology is simple, it's human to be irrational and it's human to be stupid. It's flawed logic. It's more logical to say, training with a coach of a world champion will make me a world champion. Like being coached by Kobe Bryant to be a champion basketball player as opposed to training with Phil Jackson to become a champion basketball player. Both may sound practical but one is more logical than the other.

People tend to project: in this case projecting themselves onto the world champ. Now a world champion can make you good, very good, even a world champion like himself (same applies for women). The thing I am suggesting is, it is just as likely to get to that level with a non-world champion instructor. If you want to become a great BJJ player, you don't need a world champion. And if you want to become a world champion you also don't need to be the student of a world champion. Just like to be a Nobel Award winning scientist, you don't need to study under a former Nobel Prize Laureate. Another point - A Nobel Laureate just like a world champ may be too busy on their own work to focus on your studies.

The criteria to get to that level has nothing to do with your instructor also being a world champion. If anything study what their instructors did, and what all the world champions had in common. Meaning its unlikely they all had world champion instructors. It's more likely a large percentage of them had a judo/wrestling/takedown background, or more could be said on training time as the world champions had more mat time than any other student at their academy, or the level of their training partners, or it was their mindset.

I don't think an instructor being a world champ also says anything about his teaching ability, or his ability to produce future world champions. In fact I say it has nothing to do with it as doing and teaching are completely different things. An instructor with an education/teaching background may have better crossover in teaching BJJ than someone with more titles in BJJ. Teaching and applying are two different things. It's like a world class sword maker vs a world class sword wielder. Two different skill sets all together. Now you can have someone who has both but that would be something completely coincidental.

As someone with an economics background I like to look at the numbers and statistics. Having a good teacher is very important to getting good at BJJ (for the sake of this post I will be talking about being a world champion and being very good at BJJ interchangeably even though they are two different things). But there are a lot of schools with good teachers and not all of them have world champs in their stable. I think to have that, it has more to do with recruiting, location, pool of students to draw from, student background, training partners, time, the teacher, affiliation, focus of the school, finance, support, class schedule, reputation, and generational knowledge.

The most important part of having a world class stable is recruiting. Meaning if you already have world champions in your stable, it is easier to keep going because world class guys will either go to your school, or will be easier to recruit those future world champions from other schools. Or the parent of a prospect will want to bring his student to this school. Instead of producing world champs you can recruit them, either way you get the credit and that produces synergy to get even more recruits. Imagine any college sport, professional sport, or championship sport of any kind that didn't rely on recruiting? They all may say this is the most important part. In martial arts it's not done the same way, you make them come to you.

Location is also key. Having an academy near or in an area with an untapped athletic potential is important. Not only that but also having a quick commute and being close to the homes of your students. If commute time takes a huge part of your day, it will be impossible to train 2 or 3 times in a day. I hardly ever find schools in the metro area do very well, and if they do it's because of recruits they ship in directly from Brazil. If the academy is in an area where the kids there do well in every other sport is also helpful and says a lot about the community, the parents, the background, etc.

This leads me to the pool of students. Being in an area with a lot of young students, athletic students, tough students, being near a high school or middle school or even elementary (some academies even have after-school programs). If also all your students are from a elite rich area, they may lack the fortitude to get to the highest levels of the sport. Not too rich not too poor.

Student background may be the second most important thing. A student with a strong judo or wrestling background historically always do well in the Worlds. Students also with a general athletic background, curious students who love to take things apart and see how they work, creative students, students who already come in with a certain mindset.

Training partners: you are only as good as the people you train with they say. The better guys you have to train with makes you better, which makes more people want to train at your school. It's that synergy I explained earlier. A lot of times a school will get that initial synergy when a lot of the best students branch out and form their own school or team. A handful of black belt champions who form their own stable will attract other black belts champions. Again it says nothing about the instructor or the ability to take the average student off the street and making them world class (though because of access to great training partners they may benefit).

Time is a factor. The school needs to be around for a while, especially if they are starting with young students and trying to take them from the ground up. It may take 10 years for anyone to realize how great a school is even though the school was great since day 1.


The teacher and their ability to teach. People think this is the most important aspect and though it's very important it is not the only thing. As I said because their instructor is a world champion they will think they can be world class just from that alone. The same mistake can be made inversely. Meaning just because your teacher explains every detail and are technical, this will somehow also make you very technical and good. The same illogical faith exists in students of teachers who over-explain. The stereotype is a world champion can't explain what they do, and somehow because their teacher over-explains it makes their teacher far superior. I find a lot of times a very "technical teacher" over explains and confuses the students. For instance if I needed to get to the river, and someone gave me detailed explanation and directions and drew me pictures, instead of just simply pointing to where the river is, I would find this inefficient and not scientific. A good teacher is someone who can get you very quickly to the heart of the technique, the concept without over-talking. Not every little detail matters. This leads to its own set of problems, students not being able to improvise, create their own answers, fear of failure (meaning they feel like they should be taught a move in every crazy position they could ever wind up in). Over-explaining is a loser's game. And drilling moves from every position over and over is the equivalent of katas. As I said earlier a world champion and teaching are two different skill sets. Well researching and teaching are two different skill sets as well. A lot of times a researcher will research madly, obsessively, and even in areas that lead nowhere and will just regurgitate it all to you. Application, researching, and teaching are all separate things. If your bio teacher wrote a book on bio, it will not mean you will also have the ability to write a book on bio. It's different and almost unrelated. You need a balanced teacher who balances passion/concepts/techniques. A teacher who also acts as your training partner by rolling a lot is even better. Now you can have a world champ or the greatest teacher ever, but if they are not always there or they have their students teach or they are just not engaged or plain lazy, it's all a moot point. You can also have a situation where a teacher is very good at teaching, but the stuff they teach is all low percentage and not grounded in the basics. This happens when they rely heavily on a system of moves they created or innovated themselves. A good instructor needs perspective outside of themselves.

This is why affiliation is important. You can't get good on an island, and if your school is by itself and doesn't have a larger team to help or draw upon you become very limited and must rely too heavily on your instructor. Your instructor contrary to what they may say does not have all the answers and is not a BJJ god. They are just a student-teacher. You need perspective.

Focus of the school. A school that focuses on something like MMA will not produce world champions in BJJ.

Finance of the students. If you price all the good students out you will never get world champions. Maybe you are the worlds best instructor and could produce world champs, but if you are too expensive you will not get the students you need. The opposite is also true, if you have a lot of students who can afford unlimited classes and private lessons, it will get the school one step closer. This also has a lot to do with location (e.g. suburbs).

Support the students get. Support from family and financial support to not work and just train all the time or take all those private lessons are almost a requirement to become a world champion. How can a 9-5 guy compete with a student who never works and just trains all the time and doesn't even go to school?

Class schedule: if the school doesn't offer several classes a day, every day, and mostly gi classes, then just forget about it. Also have early morning classes and late classes for the working or school crowd. This all helps with creating mat time and without thousands of hours of mat time none of the other things will matter.

The reputation of the school. Like the example I gave of the best students forming their own school creates a false reputation, this reputation will help with recruiting, recruiting helps with training partners, training partners will help with making guys better, etc.

Lastly generational knowledge. Meaning if the students parents also trained or train, or siblings or relatives train. This is true for all sports and martial arts. A high percentage of professional athletes had parents who played professionally. Hard to compete with a person who was born into the sport.

There are also factors like the physical size of the school, parking, commitment of students and teachers, how engaged the teacher is, etc. But all of these are examples of how being a world champion tells you nothing about you yourself becoming a world champion. Or how having a teacher who knows it all will not always make you know it all. Them knowing it all and you knowing it all are two different things. It's not about all about what the instructor does. They can win every world title. It's not the same as you winning them. And if you win one, you are more likely to win another. You teacher can have all the answers. It's not the same as you having the answers. But if you go try to find your own answer, it will make you more likely to find other answers. I guess it's a lot about mindset. And no one can give you the right mindset except yourself. Now this still won't affect the minds of many who believed a world champ will make them a world champ or a having a researcher instructor will make them a researcher, because they were illogical to begin with. As I said earlier working for Steve Jobs will not make you Steve Jobs.

In the end these opinions are just my opinions and nothing more. What's most important is to train in a positive environment that makes you happy. If BJJ is no longer fun, just quit. Only be loyal to your own personal BJJ.

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